Let’s face it, no story starts with “So I was eating this awesome salad when…” And when was the last time you heard someone say, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a salad!”
While touted as a healthful, nutrient-rich option, often times salads can fall short on flavor, substance, and even nutrition (think heavy salad dressings and hefty portion sizes). But when done right, salads are incredibly versatile and satisfying and can be easily modified to any situation and taste preference. Not to mention they are a great way to incorporate seasonal ingredients—the recipe below for our grated summer salad highlights The Farm’s produce in an easy, light dish for warmer days.
But first, here are some steps for building a satisfying salad every time:
- Lay the foundation: Kale, Swiss chard, arugula, beet greens, spinach, mixed greens… the list goes on. There are so many greens to choose from, so experiment with different varieties! If you’re feeling adventurous, try thinking outside of the (green) box: beets, potatoes, quinoa, and grains all make for a great base.
- Taste the rainbow: One of salad’s many amazing benefits comes from antioxidants, which are exclusive to plant foods. Different colors provide different nutrients, and eating a variety ensures you are getting a wide range of health benefits (not to mention there’s the added visual appeal). Rather than try to identify the thousands of compounds specific to each food, a good rule of thumb is to just include a variety—you may not be able to have the full rainbow spectrum of foods, but aim for at least a few different colors.
- Un-even the playing field: Having different textures to play with can help liven up a meal, impact flavor release, and improve the overall eating experience. Include fruits and veggies with different textures—or cut them in different ways—for added dimension. Add crunch with nuts or seeds, a creamy mouthfeel with crumbled or grated cheese, and chewiness with dried fruit.
- Pump it up: While veggies do contain some protein, adding a “protein food” can really complete the meal, elevating a salad from side dish to main course. Grilled chicken or beef add bulk, but you can also get your protein fix from other sources such as grilled tempeh or tofu, a hard-boiled egg, and beans (make sure to rinse first to cut down on sodium). Nuts, and seeds will also help beef up the meal (without the beef, of course).
- Throw in some herbs: Adding fresh herbs can really elevate the flavor, texture, and nutrient content of a dish, and salads are no exception. Parsley, mint, cilantro, and basil are great options, but be careful not to use too many at once or they may end up clashing together.
- Dress lightly: Heavy dressings can easily tip the scale for both calories and fat. Creamy dressings in particular are dangerous—to mimic the creaminess of ranch, try making your own with plain Greek yogurt, fresh herbs, salt and pepper, minced garlic, olive oil and parmesan (check out this recipe from Wellness Mama). You can also opt for a lighter option such as a vinaigrette, or simply toss with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar—both of which come in many flavors. Also keep in mind that the better the quality of the salad ingredients, the less dressing is required—sometimes it’s nice to just let them speak for themselves.
Grated Summer Salad
This salad is incredibly simple to make and can be easily modified—feel free to add, subtract, or switch out ingredients to fit your taste! Serve as an appetizer alongside your meal or add bulk with grilled chicken, tempeh, or a hard-boiled egg.
Makes 6-8 cups
Time: 20 minutes
2 large beets, washed and grated
Beet greens, shredded
1 ½ cups kale, shredded
1 large carrot, grated
½ cup mint, thinly chopped
1 16-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup toasted walnut halves, chopped
1 cup feta, crumbled
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ oranges, juiced
½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Whisk together all dressing ingredients and toss with all salad ingredients. Plate and enjoy!
(Article by Alicia Michelson with edits by Nora White, 2016 dietetics interns and MPH graduates from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.)